The most severe case of sunburn I ever suffered came about during playful swimming in the Arabian Sea. Some friends and I spent a day at a semi-deserted beach north of Mumbai, India. Apparently the sea water dissolved the SPF 50 rated sunscreen I had carefully applied beforehand.
The only relief from the nausea and headache came about by drinking copious amounts of fresh coconut water and nibbling on the green coconut flesh. I spent the majority of the day at the beach following the shade of the few trees. I didn’t fully recover from the sunburn until two weeks after returning home from India.
One of the worst things about being a fair-skinned redhead is extreme sensitivity to sunlight. I’ve known this since boyhood, so I’ve habitually applied a good sunblock before and during extended outdoors activities. There are other drawbacks, but most of them are social, not physical in nature.
It is impolite and improper to comment on most aspects of other people’s appearance. Teasing someone about their weight, skin color, or disability is verbotten, and rightly so. However, hair color is not off-limits. If you’re a redhead, the comments are many and often embarrassing.
Female redheads receive more complimentary remarks, while male redheads are the butt of negative teasing about our hair. Linda and her sister Lisa were the prettiest girls in our school’s fifth grade class. Their near-perfect facial features were greatly enhanced by their long, wavy red hair. Charlie Brown would have had a field day pining after the two. There was one other red-haired girl. Tracy was boyishly cute and had unmanageable red hair. She received compliments almost every day about her pretty head of hair.
Meanwhile, there were only two redheaded fifth grade boys. A very handsome freckle-faced lad named Terry, and me. It was a rare day when one or both of us weren’t severely mocked or teased. As redheaded boys we felt excluded and constantly struggled to be included in our peers’ activities. Terry and I could have descended into victim mentality if we hadn’t been pals. Although Terry and I had some close calls with large, mean bullies, we managed to get through school otherwise unscathed.
It wasn’t until college when I began seriously dating did I stop wishing I hadn’t been born with red hair. With college, I not only accepted redheadedness, but took a fair amount of pride in it. As time went forward, my best years of being a male redhead were the 30s and early 40s. These days, the red continues to fade to white and I miss the fire-red hair of youth.
My brother Mark and I were the only redheaded males in our extended family. Our relatives could not contain themselves, when it came to commenting on and teasing us about our hair color. Even though their remarks were probably well-intended, Mark and I hated having our hair color the only attribute that garnered repeated attention. That said, since Mark and I both had the same brilliant redheadedness, we had a very close bond with one another. It was us against the world.
It’s fun to think about famous redheads like Prince Harry or Ron Howard. They grew up being redheaded boys, but under much different circumstances. The tabloid press still makes a big deal about Harry’s hair. Ron Howard had this to say about himself: “I don’t vacation on the water. I’m a pale-skinned redhead; I get sunburned out there. I’m a little frightened of the ocean, in fact. But I just know there’s great drama out there.”
If you have red hair or are close to a redhead, take special note of that aspect right now. I chose the topic for this post because today is National Love Your Red Hair Day. Take some extra time to revel in redheadedness, today.